SciTech

Solar Splash takes the next big step

Nathaniel Krasnoff and KJ Lee pose at Bramer House, one of the team’s two building sites. The teammates are sporting new hazmat suits and other Breaking Bad-inspired gear.  (credit: Jonathan Leung/Photo Editor) Nathaniel Krasnoff and KJ Lee pose at Bramer House, one of the team’s two building sites. The teammates are sporting new hazmat suits and other Breaking Bad-inspired gear. (credit: Jonathan Leung/Photo Editor) Nathaniel Krasnoff and KJ Lee pose at Bramer House, one of the team’s two building sites. The teammates are sporting new hazmat suits and other Breaking Bad-inspired gear.  (credit: Jonathan Leung/Photo Editor) Nathaniel Krasnoff and KJ Lee pose at Bramer House, one of the team’s two building sites. The teammates are sporting new hazmat suits and other Breaking Bad-inspired gear. (credit: Jonathan Leung/Photo Editor)

In a small, cluttered room in the basement of the East Campus Garage, magic is happening. Nathaniel Krasnoff, senior mechanical engineering major and the president of the Carnegie Mellon Solar Splash team, spends hours working alongside his dedicated teammates, including senior mechanical engineer KJ Lee, to build an impressive, solar-powered boat that will race in two European competitions during the upcoming summer.

According to the official website, Solar Splash is “an international intercollegiate solar/electric boat regatta” sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power Electronics Society. The main events that the competition consists of include the slalom, endurance, and sprint. The slalom event is a test of maneuverability in which the boat must navigate around several buoys. In the endurance event, the boat has two hours to complete as many laps as possible around a predetermined loop with energy provided by a combination of solar panels and lead-acid batteries. The sprint is exactly as it sounds — a test of speed across a much shorter course.

Carnegie Mellon’s Solar Splash has competed consistently in the official Solar Splash competition every year, with the exception of last year. This year, however, the team is back with renewed vigor and even higher aspirations than before: The team will be competing in the DONG Energy Solar Challenge, a solar boat competition that will be held in the Netherlands this June. The team has also been invited to participate in the inaugural Monaco Solar Grand Prix in July.

Krasnoff joked that the Solar Splash team was always seen as second to buggy at Carnegie Mellon. “So for us, always being the second child and now competing on behalf of the United States is a big step. We are honored and humbled and excited.”

The Solar Splash team currently consists of 40 members, although a main 10-member group is the core of the team. The team consists of members from various different academic backgrounds, including mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering, and works in specialized groups, such as hull, propulsion, and electrical — each with its own vice president. Their work space is split between Bramer House and the East Campus Garage basement.

Krasnoff made a point of remarking that their new hull vice president, freshman Sharina Lall, is a biology major, although her experience with Solar Splash has actually made her consider switching into the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT). Their electrical vice president, sophomore Thomas Eliot, was originally a mechanical engineer but changed his major to electrical and computer engineering after his experience with Solar Splash. Their new propulsion head, freshman Kira Fujibayashi, is an economics major who is in the process of switching into mechanical engineering.

“People do really get excited about what they’re learning here,” Krasnoff said. The process of learning how to build an electric solar-powered boat is entirely different than how students learn in the classroom. In fact, when the team was younger, they essentially had to start from square one.

“We had no idea how to build a boat,” Krasnoff admitted. “We had no money, we were kicked out of our space behind Hamburg Hall, and we had no members. Now we have enough money for this new amazing adventure, two spaces, and 40 members.”

The actual process of building the boat begins with a boat design software called Michlet. One can set a series of parameters, such as how fast the boat needs to go or how long it needs to be, and Michlet, an evolutionary software, will run hundreds of iterations until an optimized model is created. After this process, molds are made by Advanced Pattern Works, an independently owned and operated model-making service. Carnegie Mellon Solar Splash has many sponsors, including Constellation Energy, CIT, the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research, the Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute, and Lockheed Martin.

“When we first came, really, there was nothing. No one knew anything,” Lee said. “But you learn. You fail and you learn, and now we’re entering an international competition, and it’s a big change. It’s been two years in the making, so it’s almost like a movie.” With the intellect and dedication that the members of Solar Splash have shown in past years, this summer’s European competitions are sure to be this movie’s happy ending.